Transport fault lines could sink Holyrood budget


The Scottish Government has published its National Transport Strategy (NTS), but arguments over its wider road spending plans could derail the country’s budget.

The document was laid before the devolved nation's parliament only to be savaged by the Scottish Green Party (SNP) - which the minority SNP administration has relied on to pass its budgets.

The SNP has 61 seats in Holyrood and the Greens 6 - with 65 seats giving a majority, meaning that losing Green support could collapse any SNP legislation including its budget. 

At the heart of the disagreement between the two parties is a dispute over plans – costing £3bn each – to dual the A9 and A96 trunk roads, as well as a £120m plan to redesign the Sheriffhall roundabout near Edinburgh.

In a letter to the then finance secretary Derek Mackay before Christmas, Scottish Greens co-convenor Patrick Harvie suggested that cancelling or re-profiling the projects could be part of ‘a transformative shift in public investment away from trunk road expansion and upgrades, and into public transport’.


The situation has been further complicated by Mr Mackay’s resignation on the eve of the budget debate last week over messages he sent to a 16-year-old. The budget was presented by public finance minister Kate Forbes.

In the debate, Mr Harvie stated that he had found ‘no evidence of a shift away from the damaging traffic-inducing transport projects that the Government has been supporting until now’. He invited Ms Forbes to ‘look with an open mind at all the options that the Greens and others are putting forward for transformational change’.

Ms Forbes said she was ‘willing to be constructive’ but challenged Mr Harvie to take the same approach.

The Scottish Green Party declined to clarify whether the roads projects represented red lines in its negotiations with the SNP. A spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘Budget talks are ongoing and we are unable to provide any update at the moment.’

Launching the strategy on the day before the budget, Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity (pictured), said: ‘Our shared vision is for a sustainable, inclusive, safe and accessible transport system, helping to deliver a healthier, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for communities, businesses and visitors. One where people choose walking and cycling or public transport over other modes and where our businesses make sustainable choices to support the reliable delivery of goods and services.’

However, the Scottish Greens said that ‘while acknowledging the climate emergency and the devastating impact of air pollution, the document offers little in the way of policy to address them’.

Transport spokesperson John Finnie said: 'Transport emissions are playing a significant role in our climate and public health emergencies. This document may acknowledge that, but without any real strategy to lower them, it is meaningless drivel.

‘Phrases like “sustainable investment hierarchy” are cheap when the Scottish Government continues to commit to billions on expanding our congestion-filled roads while leaving whole communities without any access to public transport.’

The document contains a series of policies but acknowledges that these are ‘high-level statements of intent’ aimed at achieving its vision, priorities and outcomes and do not include details of specific interventions, such as projects or programmes.

Specific interventions are to be set out in a delivery plan, to be published in the summer. However, the document does pledge to embed a Sustainable Travel Hierarchy in decision making ‘by promoting walking, wheeling, cycling, public transport and shared transport options in preference to single occupancy private car use’.

The document also includes a Sustainable Investment Hierarchy, with ‘reducing the need to travel unsustainably’ at the top and ‘targeted infrastructure investment’ at the bottom.

John Lauder, deputy chief executive officer of Sustrans, backed the strategy as ‘recognition of how much the way we travel matters to people, our places and the planet’ but added: ‘There is no doubt that there are significant challenges and tough choices ahead.’

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